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Israeli tech worker goes viral with AI bot that churns out ‘cringe’ LinkedIn posts

Tom Orbach’s generator pokes fun at some of the more popular posts on the platform, which has gained a reputation for inspirational messages ranging from tone-deaf to nonsensical

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

The LinkedIn logo is displayed during a product announcement Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP/Eric Risberg)
The LinkedIn logo is displayed during a product announcement Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP/Eric Risberg)

Israeli tech professional Tom Orbach has had a pretty fruitful week. What started with the launch of a jokey application making fun of overwrought social media posts about career development ended on Thursday with him selling the instantly viral product for a tidy profit.

Or as his Viral Post Generator would probably put it: “I frikkin made an exit!!! #makemakemake.”

Orbach’s generator, an online form that uses artificial intelligence and some prompts to automatically create the kinds of posts one might find on LinkedIn, has managed to capture the site’s tendency for awkward, ham-handed and tone-deaf messages from users, as well as the attention of at least 1.5 million visitors who have made the gag a hit.

Founded 19 years ago and acquired by Microsoft in 2016,  LinkedIn has always been on the stranger side among the big social media platforms. It is built around professional networking, work culture, career development, and the work lives of some 800 million members worldwide. People use the platform to make professional connections, look for and find jobs, and make major career announcements.

Increasingly, in the past few years, observers have noted the virality of posts that are especially inspirational/cringe-inducing. Some of the more aggrandizing, pontificating, humble-bragging, and nonsensical LinkedIn posts are the stuff of whole Reddit and Twitter threads.

A parody post two years ago appeared to capture the tone.

“Posts on LinkedIn can be so self-centered and narcissistic sometimes,” Orbach told The Times of Israel in a phone call on Thursday. “I knew people would like [the post generator] because posts are so cringing.”

Orbach said a stand-out post in recent memory that inspired the Viral Post Generator was the one known as “crying CEO.” Earlier this month, the head executive of a US marketing company published an image of his tearful face alongside a post about how he blamed himself for a company decision that led to layoffs and how affected he was by having to let go of employees. He was promptly mocked and accused of being insensitive, out of touch, and tacky.

The post was one of millions found every day on LinkedIn, where members — especially CEOs and other leaders — are encouraged to be authentic, sincere, and engaged in “thought leadership” to grow their brand or that of their company.

The results can be unintentionally funny, overdone, or just bizarre.

As part of Orbach’s job as a growth marketing manager at Israeli data privacy startup Mine, he researches and analyzes social media posts to reverse engineer them for insights, he explained. Working with viral LinkedIn posts, he felt there was a common thread and he was “onto something,” which sparked the idea of the AI generator.

He proceeded to scrape tens of thousands of LinkedIn posts with a wide reach to build the online app, using a no-code platform and “help from a few coder friends.”

Tom Orbach, creator of the Viral Post Generator for LinkedIn. (Courtesy)

The 27-year-old marketing professional spent about a week building the first version in Hebrew to test the reaction.

“People really liked it, I validated the product before a global launch. People reached out to say that they’d had a really bad day, and it made them laugh, and that they spent an hour on the generator and had fun,” said Orbach.

The generator is a fun distraction, especially with many LinkedIn users feeling the pinch, he added.

“It’s a dark time right now for the tech world, there are many layoffs,” Orbach said.

He worked on an English version for another few days and it has since been picked up and posted on every platform for amusement and giggles.

The generator prompts users to briefly describe what they did on a given day, offer their inspirational advice, and set a “cringe level” from low to high. The default suggestions are “I started a new job,” “Shoot for the stars.”

Users have been posting their AI results and they don’t disappoint. One person posted a result that read: “For the first time EVER, I fired some employees this morning. And I did it with passion! If you want to fire some employees professionally (like me), DM me and we can schedule a paid consultation Zoom call. I’ll teach you all the secrets. And then, you may suck your own peepee. #success #mentor #linkedin #influencer #firewithme”

“It’s funny and people laugh but these are all based on real posts, they have ingredients from actual posts on LinkedIn,” said Orbach.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love LinkedIn. It’s my favorite social network, it’s very positive, just a bit too cringey sometimes. We need less thought leadership, more of just people [being themselves],” he explained.

As a marketing professional, Orbach said LinkedIn and Tiktok are key to attracting eyeballs. “It’s the easiest way to reach a maximum amount of people, more than Facebook or Instagram. You have a higher probability of going viral. People my age like LinkedIn because of the opportunity it offers,” he said.

The generator is just a mechanism to poke a little fun at the LinkedIn experience, Orbach offered. “You get a surprise at the end, it adds a fun aspect.”

Orbach said the company that employs him has supported the project and “celebrated it.”

“There’s a culture at Mine to promote creation, and creativity and experimentation,” Orbach said of the startup that developed software to allow consumers to better control how their data is used and enforce their “right to be forgotten” on the internet, as the company puts it.

On Thursday, Orbach announced that he sold the generator to Taplio, a startup that helps people and businesses generate viral content on LinkedIn, which he described as the “perfect match for my generator.” In Israel’s tech world, as elsewhere, mergers and acquisitions are usually referred to as “exits.”

“I knew people would like the generator but it exploded,” he said. The acquisition offer was an opportunity “to remove the stress and get [monetarily] rewarded.

Orbach plans to use the money to fund additional projects.

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